Holiday Blockbusters and a Couple Quirky Concerts

Big shows for the season at The Rep and The Skylight, and a curious hybrid of critic and musician at Alverno.

It might still be a little early to deck the halls, but arts groups are gearing up for the season with holiday-friendly shows. In smaller venues, the Florentine Opera’s @ the Center series features an evening of Gilbert and Sullivan (sorry, it’s sold out). And the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music winds up its Festival of Trees & Music with performances by Doug Clemons (Broadway) and Rene Izquierdo (classical guitar). And Early Music Now offers what may prove to be the highlight of its season, a concert featuring fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout playing Mozart and C.P.E Bach. If these don’t fit your fancy, here is the Friday Five for the coming week.

Lawrence Renes Photo by Matts Baecker
Lawrence Renes. Photo by Matts Baecker.

#5: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at the Marcus Center

Why? Because the MSO scored big when it played Carl Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony a few weeks ago. This week, it honors another Scandinavian composer born in 1865, performing Jean Sibelius Symphony No. 7, the composer’s last. It’s not as wild and wooly as Nielsen’s, but it, too, is in a single movement, and is filled with intense drama and feeling. Conductor Lawrence Renes also leads the orchestra in a couple of crowd pleasers: Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony, and Grieg’s finger-busting Piano Concerto in A minor, featuring soloist Jon Kimura Parker.

Christopher Cerrone
Christopher Cerrone

#4: Present Music at Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist

Why? Because PM’s annual Thanksgiving concert—like the holiday it celebrates—is always a mix of the traditional and the new. As in past years, there will be music by the Bucks Native American Singing and Drumming group and several guest choirs. The highlight of the program is the world premiere of Christopher Cerrone’s The Branch Will Not Break, based on poems of James Wright). Cerrone is best known for his Invisible Cities, an opera performed in public spaces via wireless microphones and headphones. We’ll how he transforms the space at St. John’s.

Greil Marcus
Greil Marcus.

#3: “The History of Rock & Roll in Ten Songs” at Alverno College’s Pitman Theatre

Why? Because this Alverno Presents program unites words and music in a wholly original way. The dean of American music writers, Greil Marcus (sorry, Mr. Christgau) creates a concert version of his recent book, which picks ten songs—recorded between 1956 and 2008—that collectively embody the spirit and significance of rock ‘n’ roll. On hand to perform the music are former Mekons stalwarts, Jon Langford and Sally Timms. Since Marcus is as iconoclastic as he is brilliant, don’t imagine you can pick the ten songs on the agenda. If you don’t have the book already, stay off Google and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Will Allan and Greta Wohlrabe Photo by Michael Brosilow
Will Allan and Greta Wohlrabe. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

#2: The Mousetrap at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Why? Because the Brits have had exclusive rights to Agatha Christie’s murder mystery for too long (it’s been playing in London since 1952). The Christie estate released the rights to produce the play to a select few of American regional theaters, so you can join in the fun without hopping the pond. And what fun it will be, with a cast that includes Jonathan Gillard Daly, Laura Gordon, Kelly Faulkner, Greta Wohlrabe and Greg Vinkler as the guy with the funny mustache and accent. It’s directed by longtime Rep collaborator J.R. Sullivan. And remember, Do not reveal the ending!

Chris March
Chris March.

#1: Skylight Theatre’s My Fair Lady at Broadway Theatre Center

Why? Because with a little bit of luck, you’ll have one of the best times in the theater you’ve had in a long time. And you won’t need too much luck with a cast that includes Norman Moses, Joel Kopischke, Diane Lane, and Natalie Ford as Eliza Doolittle. The queen of Skylight musicals, Dorothy Danner, directs with the help of choreographer Pam Kriger. And there will be plenty of visually splendiferous costumes courtesy of Project Runway veteran, Chris March.



Paul Kosidowski is a freelance writer and critic who contributes regularly to Milwaukee Magazine, WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio and national arts magazines. He writes weekly reviews and previews for the Culture Club column. He was literary director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater from 1999-2006. In 2007, he was a fellow with the NEA Theater and Musical Theater Criticism Institute at the University of Southern California. His writing has also appeared in American Theatre magazine, Backstage, The Boston Globe, Theatre Topics, and Isthmus (Madison, Wis.). He has taught theater history, arts criticism and magazine writing at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.